PARTRIDGE

How hedge management affects farmland wildlife

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - Published by Paul Stephens
On Thursday 8 February, an enthusiastic group of farmers from the Winchester Downs farmer cluster and Selborne Landscapes partnership gathered at the Rotherfield demonstration site for a hedge management course led by Francis Buner (Head of PARTRIDGE), Rob Nicholls (South Downs National Park Ranger) and James Sherwood (Rotherfield farms).

Across the UK, most hedges are either heavily managed or left to grow into treelines, but unfortunately both types provide very little value for farmland wildlife. To tackle this problem, the course explained how to change widespread hedgerow management practises based on hedgerow type and location to improve their value for wildlife generally while retaining their aesthetic value and the time efficiency of cutting.

Throughout the morning, a range of different hedgerow examples were shown to the group, sparking interesting discussions and allowing problems relating to each individual farmer to be tackled, such as best management practise for old and overgrown hedges, intensively managed short hedges, roadside hedges as well as gappy or even new ones.

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Rotherfield provided excellent examples of wildlife-friendly hedges some of which had been managed for over 10 years in HLS schemes through the Rotherfield demonstration project and the PARTRIDGE project. The increase in farmland biodiversity that Rotherfield has seen in recent years demonstrates the importance of a well-thought-out hedgerow management plan.

At Rotherfield, hedgerow management has been dramatically altered over the past 10 years, starting from either the typical annually hard-cut short hedge without ground cover or left-alone overgrown hedge; to hedges cut in a rotation in an “A” shape which provide dense base cover (providing nesting, food and wind shelter) and improved overall health and lifetime of the hedge, or dramatic coppicing to encourage new and healthy hedge growth.

The group were also shown examples of game cover crops and one of the two lapwing plots that exist at Rotherfield. Francis and Rob spoke of the success of the plot, but the real proof came from nature where 10 lapwings were flushed from the freshly cultivated plot.

It is hoped that the knowledge gained by the group throughout the course will enable the farmers to implement these newly learned techniques at their own farms, working collaboratively to support the local farmland wildlife.

Written by Holly Kembrey and Francis Buner